Ten years ago: A statewide recount began in Florida, which emerged as critical in deciding the winner of the 2000 presidential election. Earlier that day, Vice President Al Gore had telephoned Texas Gov. George W. Bush to concede, but called back about an hour later to retract his concession.
Diebold Memos Disclose Florida 2000 E-Voting Fraud
Article: Alastair Thompson
"DELAND, Fla., Nov. 11 - Something very strange happened on election night to Deborah Tannenbaum, a Democratic Party official in Volusia County. At 10 p.m., she called the county elections department and learned that Al Gore was leading George W. Bush 83,000 votes to 62,000. But when she checked the county's Web site for an update half an hour later, she found a startling development: Gore's count had dropped by 16,000 votes, while an obscure Socialist candidate had picked up 10,000--all because of a single precinct with only 600 voters."
- Washington Post Sunday , November 12, 2000 ; Page A22
Yes. Something very strange happened in Volusia County on election night November 2000, the night that first Gore won Florida, then Bush, and then as everybody can so well remember there was a tie.
Something strange indeed. But what exactly? In the above report (click for full version), written days after the election, hotshot Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank goes on to attribute the strange 16,022 negative vote tally from Volusia's precinct 216 to an apparently innocent cause.
"…. faulty 'memory cards' in the machines caused the 16,000-vote disappearance on election night. The glitch was soon fixed," he wrote.
But thanks to recent investigations into Black Box Voting by Washington State writer Bev Harris we now know this explanation is not correct. In fact it is not even in the ballpark.
According to recently discovered internal Diebold Election Systems memos, Global Election Systems' (which was later purchased by Diebold) own technical staff were also stumped by the events in Volusia County/
"If you strip away the partisan rancor over the 2000 election, you are left with the undeniable fact that a presidential candidate conceded the election to his opponent based on [results from] a second card that mysteriously appears, subtracts 16,022 votes, then just as mysteriously disappears."
Working in parallel with Ms Harris Scoop has also been inquiring into the events on election night in Volusia county. Much of the material that follows is similar to that which appears in Chapter 11 of her book.
The starting point in this shocking discovery about election 2000 came in a series of internal Diebold ES technical support memos.
The following is an abbreviated version of the exchange concerning the peculiar events in Volusia county. For the purposes of research the exchange is included in full as an Appendix to this report (APPENDIX TWO). The discussion took place in early 2001 as an audit was underway in Volusia county into the events.
(NOTE: The names below each extract link to the full text of the emails in the appendices below.)
I need some answers! Our department is being audited by the County. I have been waiting for someone to give me an explanation as to why Precinct 216 gave Al Gore a minus 16022 when it was uploaded. Will someone please explain this so that I have the information to give the auditor instead of standing here "looking dumb".
Lana Hires – Volusia County Florida - January 17, 2001 8:07 AM
My understanding is that the card was not corrupt after (or before) upload. They fixed the problem by clearing the precinct and re-uploading the same card. So neither of these explainations washes. That's not to say I have any idea what actually happened, its just not either of those…
The problem is its going to be very hard to collect enough data to really know what happened. The card isn't corrupt so we can't post-mortem it (its not mort).
Ken Clark – Diebold ES R&D Manager – January 18, 2001 1:41 PM
- the negative numbers on media display occurred when Lana attempted to reupload a card or duplicate card. Sophia and Tab may be able to shed some light here, keeping in mind that the boogie man may me reading our mail. Do we know how this could occur?
John McLaurin - Diebold ES - 18 Jan 2001 15:44:50
The problem precinct had two memcory cards uploaded. The second one is the one I believe caused the problem. They were uploaded on the same port approx. 1 hour apart. As far as I know there should only have been one memory card uploaded. I asked you to check this out when the problem first occured but have not heard back as to whether this is true.
When the precinct was cleared and re-uploaded (only one memory card as far as I know) everything was fine.
Given that we transfer data in ascii form not binary and given the way the data was 'invalid' the error could not have occured during transmission. Therefore the error could only occur in one of four ways:
[4.] There is always the possiblity that the 'second memory card' or 'second upload' came from an un-authorised source.
Tab Iredale - Diebold ES - 18 Jan 2001 13:31
If this problem is to be properly answered we need to determine where the 'second' memory card is or whether it even exists. Heh. Second shooter theory. All we need now is a grassy knoll.
Ken Clark – Diebold ES R&D Manager – 18 Jan 2001 16:42:50
I will be visiting with Lana on Monday and will ascertain the particulars related to the second memory card. One concern I've had all along is "if" we are getting the full story from Lana.
I'll be back in touch and thanks for all of y'alls (that's southern for all of you) help.
John McLaurin – Diebold ES - Thu, 18 Jan 2001 16:56:06
Unfortunately whether or not John McLaurin got to the bottom of the mystery of Volusia County is something the memos cannot tell us.
Searches of the Diebold memos database find a single followup memo from McLaurin about the Checksum Errors experienced in Volusia, but nothing on the mysterious 16,022 negative vote count.
Which leaves us where exactly?
What we know from the memos can be summarised as follows:
- Two memory cards were uploaded from Volusia Couny's precinct 216, the second one was loaded sometime close to 2am in the morning. It automatically replaced the first card's results and reduced Gore's total by 16,022 votes and added several thousand votes to Bush plus a variety of minor candidates;
- Both memory cards loaded into the system clean and without errors, indicating (contrary to the official line) that they were not faulty;
- After the error was noticed the original card was reloaded and the mistake was rectified;
- The error was introduced in such a way that the total number of votes remained unchanged (again something that could not happen by chance.);
- According to the technical boffins, the chance of the memory card being corrupted and still passing the checksum error test are less than 60,000 to 1;
- The technical managers at Diebold Election Systems considered it a reasonable possibility that the second card was part of deliberate conspiracy to rig the election results.
In her book Bev Harris explains the issue of whether the card was a chance fault or a deliberate example of tampering"
"A memory card is like floppy disk. If you have worked with computers for any length of time you will know that a disk can go bad. When it does, which of the following is most likely? In an Excel spreadsheet that you saved on a "bad disk," might it read a column of numbers correct the first time: "1005, 2109, 3000, 450…" but the second time, replace the numbers like this: "1005, 2109, -16022, 450…" Or is it more likely that the "bad disk" will…fail to read the file at all, crash your computer, give you an error message, or make weird humming and whirring noises."
source: page 239, Chapter 11, "Black Box Voting in the 21st Century"
However officially, as we learned earlier, the explanation given publicly - and accepted without demur by the media - for the strange events in Volusia county is that there was simply a "faulty memory card".
The "faulty memory card" explanation is also included in a CBS News Network investigation into the Election 2000 debacle.
And it is here that we find a considerable amount of information about just how significant the Volusia County events were on election night.
The first thing we learn from CBS's investigation into the events of election night is that according to the Voter News Service (VNS) exit polls for Florida Al Gore should have won comfortably.
7:00 PM: The vast majority of Florida polls close. CBS News decides not to project a winner in the Florida Presidential race at poll closing, even though the best estimate, based upon exit-poll interviews from the 45 survey precincts, shows Gore leading Bush by 6.6 points. The Decision Desk decides to wait for some actual votes from sample precincts to confirm the exit-poll results.
7:40 PM: The VNS computation shows a "call" status in the Florida Presidential race. This status means that statistically Gore is leading, but the Decision Team needs to check more data.
VNS eventually officially called the Florida race to Gore at 7.52pm, notwithstanding comments early in the vote count from George Bush that he was confident he would win both Florida and Pennsylvannia (comments which were never fully explained).
With the benefit of hindsight we think we now know that the VNS data was wrong. That is certainly what the CBS inquiry found.
In the report attached below there are a range of explanations for this given, none of them adequately explain the magnitude of the error however.
Most of the news networks followed the VNS call giving Florida to Gore. And by 8.02pm all networks had announced Gore as the winner in Florida. And it wasn't till 9pm that some doubts about this callstarted to emerge.
First up a significant error - attributed to a typing mistake - was found in the VNS data at 9.07pm. This led to closer examination of the rest of the data and the incoming returns. By around 10pm the Florida calls to Gore were all officially withdrawn. This is recorded in the CBS report as follows:
9:54 PM: The CBS News Decision Desk recommends that the call in Florida for Gore be withdrawn. CBS is in a local cutaway at 9:54 PM (the seven minutes at the end of the hour when local stations broadcast their own election results), and so CBS does not withdraw the call until 10:00 PM.
10:16 PM: VNS retracts its Florida call for Gore.
The CBS timeline then jumps forward four hours to 2am EST.
By now an apparently substantial lead of 29,000 votes has opened up in favour of George Bush.
2:09 AM: VNS adds Volusia County's erroneous numbers to its tabulated vote. With 171 out of 172 precincts in the county reporting, Gore's vote drops by more than 10,000 while Bush's rises by almost the same amount. This 20,000-vote change in one county increases Bush's VNS statewide lead to more than 51,000 votes.
What the news networks, and the Al Gore, camp do not realise at this point in the evening is that over 24,000 of votes that make up this significant lead are attributable to two Diebold Election Systems computer errors.
First there are the 16,022 votes stolen from Gore in Volusia county by the "faulty memory card". Meanwhile over in Brevard County another error - also involving Global Elections System (the predecessor of Diebold) equipment is responsible for a further 4000 votes being lopped off the Gore total.
And it is also worth noting that nobody knows whether the Brevard and Volusia county errors were the only ones in play at this time. These errors were both big ones. They were noticed and corrected on the night. How many smaller vote subtractions could have taken place on the night? Theoretically hundreds. As Dana Milbank's Washington Post report shows it was only because someone noticed the error in Volusia that it was corrected and remarkably the software itself contains no automatic system for rejecting negative vote totals being reported by precincts, events which by definition can only be nefarious and wrong.
At 2am another VNS error came into play. VNS's estimates of the outstanding votes underestimated those that remained to be counted by half, around 180,000. The two errors combined led news executives at CBS to conclude that Bush's final winning margin in Florida would be around 30,000 votes. At this stage Bush had a lead of around 50,000 votes and late reporting precincts were expected to pare this back as many of them were in Democrat leaning counties.
At 2.16am Fox and NBC called the race to Bush, unaware that the Volusia error had now been discovered. Over at Associated Press – the news service that Network News controllers do not read - the margin to Bush had by now fallen to 30,000 after correcting the Volusia error.
At 2.17am and 2.20am the remaining two major networks CBS and ABC called the race to Bush. Their decision continued to be bolstered by the VNS data stream - which even at 2.47am - was still recording a margin to Bush of close to 50,000 votes.
Remarkably it was not till 2.51am that VNS fixed the Volusia error in its data.
Meanwhile with all the networks showing the race for the White House won by Bush, the pressure is mounting on Gore to concede.
In the book, "Too Close to Call" by journalist Jeffrey Toobin, the author gives a behind-the-scenes account of how Gore reacted when the television networks concluded that Bush had taken Florida.
"Al Gore happened to be in the staff room on the seventh floor when the votes spiked up in Bush's favor. Dressed casually, the vice president was watching television while lying on the floor, with his chin propped up in his hands. As a result of the Volusia votes, Fox News called Florida—and the presidency—for Bush at 2:16 a.m. CBS and NBC followed suit a minute later and ABC came in at 2:20 a.m.," Toobin wrote in his book.
"Following the news reports, Gore was silent and absorbed the news. A moment later he told members of his campaign that he was ready to concede the election to Bush, which he did several minutes later over the telephone.
"Unwilling to take the television networks reports at face value, one of Gore's campaign staffers did a little investigating and discovered that the networks erred in stating that 50,000 votes from Volusia county were cast for Bush. Turns out that Gore was ahead by 13,000 votes in Volusia and trailing Bush by 6,000 votes overall. Something was wrong in Volusia it would be revealed later.
One of Gore's campaign advisers then checked Florida's law on recounts. The nearly dead heat between Bush and Gore in Florida and the fact that Gore was ahead in Volusia County meant a mandatory recount. It was time to rescind Gore's concession to Bush and scrutinize the ballots. Gore was traveling in a motorcade en route to deliver a concession speech to his supporters. His staff stopped him. At this point, the margin between Bush and Gore was down to 2,000 votes. A recount was all but certain."
Gore called Bush and Gore's staff surrounded the vice president to listen in on what would become a historic conversation at 2:30 a.m.
"Circumstances have changed dramatically since I first called you," Gore said to Bush, Toobin wrote. "The state of Florida is too close to call."
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" Bush asked according to Toobin. "Let me make sure that I understand. You're calling back to retract that concession?" Gore sensed an annoyance in Bush's tone and shot back "you don't have to be snippy about it."
Toobin says Bush then told Gore that his "little brother", Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, had assured him that he won the state of Florida and for that matter the presidency of the United States.
"Let me explain something," Toobin quoted Gore as saying in his response to Bush. "Your little brother is not the ultimate authority on this."
"You do what you have to do," Bush said and hung up the phone on Gore. When Gore turned around to face his staff they exploded in cheers.
It is not till 3.10am that the CBS news controllers notice the huge difference between their numbers and those of AP which by now show the margin to Bush at under 10,000.
We also know, thanks to the CBS inquiry report, that by around 3.40am the Gore camp had decided not to concede. Gore Campaign Chairman William Daley rang CBS News President Andrew Heyward in the control room and asked him whether CBS would be reversing its call soon.
CBS's Andrew Heyward waited another 15-20 minutes after the phone call before ordering CBS to officially withdraw the call to Bush. And by 4.05am all the other networks had also withdrawn the call.
By 4.10am the reported Bush lead in the race had dropped to 1800 votes, and thereabouts it remained until the first recount - albeit the Florida Secretary of State's office website reported the race to Gore on the day after the vote.
And it is there that the narrative in this tale ends and the analysis starts.
In its internal conclusions about these events the CBS inquiry team found the two Diebold County level errors, Volusia and Brevard, were conclusive in their networks decision to call the race to Bush.
" The mistakes, both of which originated with the counties, were critical, since there were only about 3 percent of the state's precincts outstanding at this time. They incorrectly increased Bush's lead in the tabulated vote from about 27,000 to more than 51,000. Had it not been for these errors, the CBS News call for Bush at 2:17:52 AM would not have been made."
You do not get much clearer than that.
The record already shows that events of election night 2000 turned on the errors in the Volusia and Brevard vote counts. Both of which occurred on Global Election Systems (now Diebold) equipment.
Of course we now know Al Gore did not concede.
But had he done so would that have altered what followed? Would there have been the hanging-chad phenomena, the lawsuits over recounts and the recriminations?
Most of what is contained in the preceding analysis is well trodden territory. Everybody knows that the TV networks screwed up big time on election night, and the issue of bias at those networks has also been well traversed.
What has not been discussed, or even conceived of till now, is that the events that occurred between around midnight and 4am might have been the result not of mistakes but of organised voting fraud.
Yet that is precisely what Talbot Iredale and Ken Clark's memos confirm is a distinct possibility, in fact, reading between the lines they suggest it is the most likely possibility.
How plausible is it that an error such as this - of such magnitude, with no apparent physical explanation, and in one of the few counties still receiving incoming results that late in the night – was really the simple result of a "faulty memory card"?
We also now know, again thanks to the work of Black Box Voting investigators like Washington State's Bev Harris and California's Jim March, that the Diebold vote tallying programme used in several Florida counties, GEMS, is easily hackable, both by outsiders and by insiders.
[See… Bev Harris's " Inside A U.S. Election Vote Counting Program " for details and Jim March's "DIEBOLD'S VOTE-TALLY SOFTWARE- Security Review Instructions"for a kit to demonstrate the hack on your own computer.]
We do not know what would have happened had a full state-wide recount been undertaken as the efforts to have one were blocked in the courts.
Would they have discovered other counties where unusual events like those discovered in Brevard and Volusia counties?
Is it possible that the original VNS exit polling data was closer to correct than conventional wisdom suggests?
Is it possible that less egregious vote stealing took place in counties all over Florida?
Add into the mix the blatant roll scrubbing in Florida discovered by Greg Palast and exposed in his best-selling book "The Best Democracy Money can buy" and you have a recipe of reasons to reopen a full scale inquiry into the Florida debacle.
Perhaps more importantly. With paper-less touchscreen voting systems in place in many Florida counties come November 2004, should such events occur again, there will be no record with which to conduct a recount.
And the other big mystery of course is this: if someone did try to rig the election returns in Florida in 2000, who was it?
story so bizarre it's got to be true," is the billing given for this Tuesday's Florida Recount Reunion that The Village Square is hosting downtown.
It's been — how could it be? — a full decade since that historically indecisive presidential election brought the world to our feet here in the Florida capital.
Quite literally, for 37 days, the foot of the Capitol and Supreme Court building on Duval Street took on the appearance of a camp site with breezy white tents shielding camera equipment and TV production gear in what was still a pre-digital era.
From all over the globe came the media, the law and the amazed who could not quite believe that an American presidential election hung in the balance for so long — and hung on such unexpected flotsam of democracy as something we came to call hanging chads, and also butterflies.
The Village Square is sponsoring the Recount Reunion, considering that we might extract some insights from what was another era after all, and arguably less politically contentious in spite of passions running high.
The 2000 election came before early voting and more reliable voting machines. It was back when some paper ballots required holes to be punched to signify an elector's choice, and when the punch wasn't quite thorough, that vote was uncertain.
Every single vote would have to be counted — in many cases recounted — to break this spellbinding election. And it happened to be in Florida, where the voting was quite simply bollixed up in several counties, turning our state into the setting of both drama and comedy.
This year, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert mocked our hostile midterm scrambles for office as "Indecision 2010." But it has paled by comparison to a decade ago, when the battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush was resolved in what Tallahassee Attorney Barry Richard described to Liz Joyner, executive director of The Village Square, as "a shining moment for American jurisprudence."
Richard, who was lead counsel for Bush in all 47 Florida cases, will be opening Tuesday's event with a multimedia presentation that is sure to be riveting.
His contention is that the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court each acted honorably and in accordance with long-standing precedent in their decisions.
Even those of us who well remember and often participated in the waiting game on Duval Street — where the face of Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters became familiar around the world — couldn't have predicted, however, that the divisiveness that election generated would not only linger on, but grow into the vitriolic and almost never bipartisan state of affairs that is now commonplace. Or that, as high as emotions were running, it was nevertheless a comparatively mannerly time compared with this election season's free-flowing epithets of "liar," "corruption," "fraud" and such.
At times there was even a kind of storybook quality to those days downtown. I recall how mesmerized and charmed some of our media celebrity visitors from New York, Washington and London were on that cold early December evening when Tallahassee held its Celebration of Lights. The streets were shimmering with holiday lights, alive with carolers, a Santa's workshop, children in snowsuits, costumed elves dancing and a surreal and Felliniesque aura over all. It was Americana at its most beguiling, and symbolic of the serenity and happiness that a functioning democracy ought to sometimes afford.
Panelists for the Recount Reunion will also include legendary Tallahassee attorney Dexter Douglass, who joined high-powered David Boies of upstate New York in arguing the case for Vice President Al Gore in the Florida Supreme Court. Boies, later portrayed by actor Ed Begley Jr. in the 2008 film "Recount," along with Douglass, Richard and other key players were frequently seen having lunch at Andrew's on Adams Street, where they'd talk strategy with each other and reporters and occasionally sign an autograph.
Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga will be on hand. In 2000, he was on the bench of the 15th Circuit Court in Palm Beach County. He was the judge who ruled on the "dimpled chad" issue, refusing a new vote on the grounds that the U.S. Constitution states that an election must be held everywhere in the United States on the same day, not just in one area.
f you attend, you'll have a chance to visit with retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead, as well as 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Nikki Clark and 2nd Judicial Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who presided over two key elements of Bush v. Gore
With attorneys looking over their shoulders, the three members of Palm Beach County's election canvassing board examine unclear punch-card 'butterfly ballots' to try to decipher the voters' intents in the 2000 presidential race.
There's a climate-controlled floor in the state archives building in Tallahassee where two distinct collections are kept for posterity: the case files of convicted murderers, and the ballots for the 2000 presidential election.
"The punch cards are now so brittle that most of the holes have been punched out," said Jennifer Krell Davis of the Florida Department of State. "There's no useful application for them anymore."
But letting go of the desiccated physical remains of the most contentious election in the state's history, an election that began 10 years ago today, stretched over a monthlong recount, and decided a presidency at a crucial moment in American history, still seems, well, premature.
So these nearly 6 million ballots, collected from 66 of Florida's 67 counties - Bay County destroyed its ballots before the state could collect them - cost taxpayers about $43,000 a year to preserve, and serve as one of the most tangible reminders of an election that is gone, but far from forgotten.
"There's still a lot of bitterness," said Theresa LePore, the former Palm Beach County supervisor of elections. "I was at the airport in Atlanta waiting for a plane, and somebody just walked up to me and said, 'I hope you're happy with yourself.' Things like that still happen. I have to tip well in restaurants because everybody knows who I am."
'Butterfly ballot' challenge
LePore and Palm Beach County found themselves at the vortex of the 2000 presidential election because of a visually challenging ballot design that turned an estimated 2,800 would-be Al Gore voters into Pat Buchanan voters. The so-called "butterfly ballot" opened the door to calls for a revote, a public march in West Palm Beach led by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, and the opening volleys of political rancor that only hardened over the next decade.
But it would be far too simple to claim that Palm Beach County's butterfly ballot was solely responsible for the 537-vote margin that gave George W. Bush the state and, by extension, the presidency.
The closeness of that election, and the subsequent official recounts and media re-examinations, revealed that tens of thousands of Floridians threw their votes away that day by overvoting - voting for more than one candidate in the 10-candidate field. There would be nearly 22,000 of these overvoters alone in Jacksonville's Duval County and 19,120 more in Palm Beach County, where 23 percent of the ballots cast in Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay were invalidated this way.
And even more troubling, tens of thousands of other voters had cast ballots without registering any vote at all for president. The three South Florida counties alone had nearly 28,000 of these no-vote ballots.
Deciphering 'voter intent'
The undervotes were a product of the existing punch card technology, which required voters to use a stylus to punch a hole in a removable ballot card. If the hole wasn't cleanly punched, those little perforated flaps of cardboard, which later became known in the recount vernacular as dimpled, pregnant, hanging or dangling chads, would cover up the hole when the voting card was fed into a tabulator. The result was a no-vote.
And because Florida law holds that "voter intent" is the guiding standard in deciding whether a ballot should be counted, Democrats used the significant number of these undervotes to create the legal justification for the individual inspection of ballots by three-member election canvassing boards in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
These ballot inspections became the enduring images of the 2000 presidential election, those scenes in the recount rooms, where canvassing board members, watched closely by lawyers from both parties, held individual cardboard ballots in the air, trying to decipher voter intent from a punch card that wasn't quite punched.
It landed the magnifying glass used by Broward County canvassing board member Judge Robert Rosenberg in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and it served as a prologue for John Bolton, a Republican recount watcher in Palm Beach County, who went on to an appointment by President Bush as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Palm Beach County's Emergency Operations Center became a political carnival site, as competing protest rallies arrived daily to jockey for attention from the media organizations that set up tents in the parking lot and broadcast frequent updates from the counting operation inside